We just made it back from a 5-day road trip, 9 hours there (4 hours stuck in LA traffic, the worst) and 6 hours back (no traffic). As we’ve been traveling with our first son since he was 1-month old, I’ve written down some wise tips we’ve learned along the way. Cheers to making road trips smooth, safe, eventful and…painless for all!
SNACKS ARE FUN: do not underestimate the power of food. Distraction at its finest.
SING SONGS TOGETHER: like you did with your parents! Although, we’ve forgotten many through our decades into adulthood so do some research and print up those sing-alongs for reference in the car.
STARBUCKS: I have a love/hate relationship with Starbucks. I prefer the mom&pop cafés and to support local businesses although there is nothing more reliable in a strange land than Starbucks. You know their product, their bathrooms are usually clean, the space is comfortable enough to sit & enjoy your drink AND their meals are fairly healthy & fresh. Eat up, rev up…go!
TOY BIN: keep lots of small toys & books for children in a small basket, we place this in-between their carseats on the floor for easy access by the parent in the passenger seat. Small toys, various sizes & styles, small boxes & containers for them to take toys in&out while in carseat and books do the trick. Bring current favorites but also sprinkle in forgotten old toys, they suddenly are refurbished and appealing while traveling.
TODDLER MUSIC: turn down the front speakers and let your toddler rock out to their favorite music, you & your partner will be able to talk without audio distraction. Classical if you want them to sleep.
BE PREPARED, KNOW YOUR PIT-STOPS: there is nothing worse than driving down the highway with hysterical babes crying to “get out” and no clue where to stop. We’ve made the mistake of pulling off into a barren wasteland in Flagstaff, another highway to oblivion in New Mexico, suburbia with no public restrooms/markets outside of Riverside and, worse, no freeway exit for miles (the Mojave Desert). Be prepared along your journey with pit-stops and points of (toddler) interest along the way. I keep a journal in our car (or old receipts with addresses), especially for stops from Vegas to San Diego:
- LENWOOD AVE (in Barstow), think “Lenny & Squiggy” and not to be confused with ‘L STREET’ in Barstow. 2 Starbucks, 1 In-n-Out, endless gas stations, need I say more?
- LIMONITE AVE (after Barstow, before Riverside): go west off the freeway and take your first right into a movie theater complex, to the east of the theater there’s a PINKBERRY (the Holy Grail of fro-yo) and a fountain, I repeat, a flowing, large, gorgeous fountain for the kids. Perfection.
- MAJALCO (after LIMONITE): go east off the freeway and take your first left into a large shopping mall, take another left and you’ll find a Starbucks on your left. Very large Starbucks with great bathrooms and, again, a fountain (rather, HUGE fountain) with lots of outdoor seating. Take a breath of fresh air here, cool down, energy up.
RESERVE A SEAT NEXT-TO OR IN-BETWEEN CAR SEATS FOR YOU: nothing like mommy’s gaze, mommy’s voice, mommy’s soothing caress when a little TLC is needed. They usually lull to sleep when you’re with them.
REST-STOPS ARE YOUR FRIEND: you would be amazed at the nice, clean, well-attended & well-lit rest-stops now available along the highway. Golden rule, never use the restroom by yourself (if you use the restroom by yourself or bring your child, make sure your partner stays outside the bathroom door waiting for you and always stay within voice range). Stretch your legs, relieve your bladder, enjoy your hand-packed lunch & let the kids “get the sillies out”!
DON’T TRAVEL AFTER DARK: this just totally freaks out the kids, especially transitioning from day to night while driving unless they’ve had a day filled with exercise (ie/ Disneyland) to ensure sleep while driving.
TRAVEL ON “OFF” DAYS, PRO & CON: pro: you will glide down a nearly-vacant highway. con: all the creepie-jeepies are out. For instance, last Tuesday we stopped at a gas station and there was a man simulating sex while doing push-ups (grunting and all). Totally. Awful.
ALLOW 2 DAYS BETWEEN TRAVEL: this will allow a buffer for your children to re-acclimate before they sit in their carseat for an extended period of time.
UPSIDE DOWN: we visited an Osteopath in Santa Fe when my first son was a newborn, he was wound so tight from his 48hr labor & forceps birth the professional had to “unwind” him, meaning turn him upside down to realign his spine & release trapped energy. Seek an Osteopath to teach you how to unwind your baby, it does the trick every time.
+30% TRAVEL TIME: children require more pit-stops, more food, more eye-to-eye, skin-to-skin contact so when we travel, in order to keep our sanity, we accept travel time will usually be about 30% longer than usual. ie/ a 6 hour trip to San Diego usually turns into +8hours, a 10 hour trip to Santa Fe turns into 14 hours, and so on. Accept this and you’ll be able to plan more effectively while keeping your expectations rational.
WHITE NOISE: our little lamb travels with us everywhere we go, we use him daily at home and in the car the boys feel safe, familiar & (usually) lulled to sleep by the whales/ocean/rain.
BREAST-FEED WHILE TRAVELING: Both of my boys were/are breastfed and, if you have the flexibility/body type to lean in and give him the breast to feed while mama & baby are safely strapped in your seats (and discreetly covered by a swaddle!)….do it. Babies usually cry right before falling asleep on a road trip and if they get hysterical, the breast calms them down almost immediately.
IPOD/IPAD/DVD/WHATEVER ELECTRONIC DEVICE YOU HAVE: we try to sooth our kids without the use of electronic distraction but, when desperate, we use them. Keep them charged. Keep them clean. Keep them ready.
In the words of the great Clark Griswold, “Everything isn’t like home. If everything were like home, there would be no reason for leaving home.”. Bring the spoon for the lemonade, untie the dog and let’s go to Wally World!